Monday, January 9, 2023 @

Chapter 44, Part 2

 In the first place, the girl in front of me was the girl who would become a landmine as soon as I made a mistake in adjusting her likability in the game. And on the day she awakens by mistake, she is far superior to me. It's funny to think that treating her like a youkai, humiliating her, and strangling her... doesn't cause resentment.
 And in the game's bad ending, she kills everyone who looked down on her as a child when she kidnaps the main character, as if out of spite. Horribly and brutally.
 In short, what it means in this situation right now is...
 "S-Shiro! I'm not...! I mean...!!"
 "P-please don't worry too much about it. I know you don't mean what you say."
 I got up from the futon and tried to make a desperate excuse, but Shiro gently put me on my side as if admonishing me.
 "I know that Tomobe-san is usually considerate of me. I wouldn't take your words seriously when you're upset like that... Though my neck hurt."
 Shiro touches her neck where the marks of my stranglehold are still visible, and she makes a troubled face. The marks will disappear in time, but they are still painful. I almost look away from her guiltily.
 "B-but, I don't think that was your best effort either!? I know that if Tomobe-san was serious, my neck would have been broken immediately!"
 Shiro noticed my depression and hurriedly followed up.
 Then, Shiro looks at me as if she wants to say something. She makes a thoughtful expression on her face and says.
 "Tomobe-san looked so lonely and sad at that moment..."
 I distorted my face to the point of misery at the words that Shiro had said so reservedly. It was as if I had been exposed to the emotions I had been suppressing.
 "Tomobe-san... Please don't be too hard on yourself."
 I was about to say "I'll be fine..." but Shiro stopped me.
 "U-umm... I understand that it's not my place to say something so imposing. But... I don't think you should carry too much burden alone."
 Then, in a slightly trembling, nervous voice, Shiro tells me.
 "Umm... I-I can't say this too proudly, since I've been indebted to Tomobe-san and caused you trouble... I mean, I know it doesn't sound good, but I'm a half-youkai, and, you know, although I'm not one of your friends, I think I can be of some help in a case like this... I-I'm sorry. As expected, you don't like it, do you...?"
 Shiro speaks in a slurred, restless tone, probably not knowing what to say. Her face turns red from embarrassment and she shrinks her body. Her fox ears and tail are wilted.
 And I stare at her for a while... then I fall back on the futon, staring blankly at the ceiling, and open my mouth casually.
 "....this body. If I tear it open, it won't feel like me inside."
 "....well, I know you don't like it, but just for a little while. Could you hold my hand, please?"
 I begged. I pleaded. I asked, anxious. Because right now, I didn't know if I was a monster or a human, and I needed someone's warmth at least.
 And Shiro looks surprised at my request for a moment, but she does not show any sign of reluctance at all, and she squeezes my right hand with both of her hands. She squeezed it gently but strongly. Her small hands reminded me of the soft but gentle warmth that is characteristic of a child.
 "My mother used to do this to me when I had a scary dream. It's nothing to be ashamed of, you don't mind, do you?"
 "Well, that's still embarrassing."
 I smile and answer immediately to Shiro who smilingly and good-humoredly replies with a wry smile. I think this is the first positive laugh I've had since I woke up.
 Then I feel tired and sluggish. My eyelids grow heavy and drowsiness washes over me.
 "You are still weak, so please go back to sleep now. I will hold your hand until you wake up next time!"
 Shiro declares with a childish look filled with a sense of mission. Ping! Her fox ears and tail stand proudly. I laugh again at the sight of her. And then I slowly fall asleep...
 For the time being, I can say that I did not have any nightmares in this sleep...
* * *
 Late at night when the moonlight is hidden by the clouds... A few wagons were climbing up a mountain road in the eastern part of the capital, on the outskirts of the capital. The coachman was wearing armor and carrying a sword (太刀) at his waist, and so were the horsemen surrounding him. They were clearly not a group of merchants.
 Under the escort of guards, the wagon of the Ministry of Justice with the prisoners on board is moving forward. The destination is a prison called the Three-Legged Prison (Sanzoku Prison (三足牢獄)) on Mt. Eiraku.
 "Ugh......!? D*mn, it's shaking! It makes my wounds ache!"
 "Godd*mn...! Can't we go slower...!!!"
 Although the mountain road has been paved, it is hardly a paved road, and the wagon is naturally shaking. This naturally exhausted those who were crammed into the wagons, and if they had wounds, it was only natural that they would ache from them. And almost all of those who were crammed into the wagons were seriously wounded.
 These persons were suspected of smuggling trade with the Ezo tribe, bribing the Imperial Court, aiding and abetting the Ezo tribe to hide in the capital, and kidnapping Kayo, the daughter of Tachibana Hibiki, and after first aid treatment for their wounds, they were shackled and now being transferred to prison for questioning.
 "Ugh...... you b*stard... not yet... It's not over yet...!!"
 Tachibana Kurayoshi, who looks like his men were seriously wounded and bandaged all over his body, mutters in a curse-like tone.
 Although he did not expect to be sent to a prison house, Kurayoshi, who had crossed many dangerous bridges in the past, had already taken measures. It was already confirmed that they were to be put in the "Agari-zashiki (the apartments for the highest ranking samurai during the Edo period)."
 Prisons varied from one to another. Of course, if he was put in the kind of dirty, unhygienic jail where thugs are kept, he might be killed by the people he was crammed in a cell with before he could be interrogated. He did not want to end up like that.
 Similarly to Danjo-dai (Imperial Prosecuting and Investigating Office), Kurayoshi had long been giving money up his sleeve to the Ministry of Justice and Kebiishi (police and judicial chief) Agency. Thanks to these gifts, the prisons in which he and his colleagues stayed during interrogations were the most favorable ones, called "Agari-Zashiki." Normally, only high-ranking monks, samurai (warriors), court nobles, and exorcists were supposed to be allowed to enter this prison, but it was a place where even hellish affairs depended on money.
 "Hibiki... Don't think you've won just because of this...! With my connection... With my money, I could do something much better...!!!"
 Kurayoshi grunts and shouts the name of his nephew, who is also the chairman of the trading company, in hatred.
 After being half killed by a 'smuggling youkai' who escaped from the warehouse, Tachibana Hibiki who was looking for his daughter arrives with many mercenaries and they are captured. They were brought before the Imperial Court, and after receiving some first aid and stabilizing their condition, they were brought to their current situation... but his nephew was already moving in all directions to have him beheaded as a guilty party.
 "Ugh... not only have you been bewitched by such a witch, but now you want to execute me, your revered uncle...! And your friend Kizuki's daughter too!! After we're half dead! I won't forgive you... I never forgive you...!!"
 I'll make sure this grudge will be avenged. And when that happens, that damned parent and daughter who are now parasites in Tachibana's house, will be taken care of...!
 Jealousy, anger, contempt, shame, and obsession distorted Kurayoshi's face as he thought about the coming time of retaliation. He decides... to thoroughly humiliate and disgrace the family, and that is when the wagon comes to a sudden halt.
 "Whoa!? What are you doing, you little b*stard! Can't you even run a horse properly!?
 Kurayoshi yells in agony, his wounds aching from the sudden and violent stop. But...
 Kurayoshi and his men begin to wonder why there is not a single response, not even a single reaction, and no sign of moving again. And that was the next moment. The lock on the outside of the wagon is removed and the door opens...
 "Well, well, it looks like you all are crammed into a very cramped place, huh? I guess it's not so bad for being sent to jail...?"
 "You are..."
 Kurayoshi was slightly surprised to see the person putting on the cloak covered with blood. The three Ezo assassins who had worked to kidnap Tachibana Kayo, one of whom had been hiding for years as a member of Danjo-dai (Imperial Prosecuting and Investigating Office)... Kamui was there. He had a dagger (tantō) in his hand, and behind him were the bodies of guards and prisoners, cut to a precise point and dumped haphazardly on the ground.
 "You are... Kamui, wasn't it!?"
 "Oh? It's a great honor for me that you remember my name."
 "Don't worry about that...!! Instead, let's get these shackles off of me!"
 Kurayoshi orders as he shows the shackles made of wood and metal. Kurayoshi treats this somewhat out-of-place man who works as a subordinate of Danjo-dai (Imperial Prosecuting and Investigating Office), a small assistant of Danjo-dai who is also a collaborator in the smuggling business, as if he were his own subordinate. In fact, it was quite natural to assume that this man came here to rescue him. Therefore, the old merchant gave this instruction arrogantly and openly.
 "You're so abrupt. Why don't you ask a few more questions?"
 "Hmph! That's a waste of time! Why don't you do your job now!! Get me a doctor too! My whole body hurts too much for first aid!!"
 The old merchant exclaims with a sniffle to Kamui who smiles wryly. His whole body must be still painful. It seemed that he was in a very high state of mind.
 "Good grief, you're in a hurry. Shall I be presumptuous and do this job for you?"
 "Yes. Quickly, release me from—"
 The next moment, there is a sound of cutting in the air. At the same time, Kurayoshi's shackles were shattered... along with his wrists.
 "Hmm? Aaaaaaaaaaaarrrghhhh...!!!!??"
 His men, seeing the scene, became panicked and screamed. At the same time, one of them lets out a desperate scream like a chicken being strangled. But before he know it, Kamui, who had moved in the "darkness," slit the man's throat...
 "Oh no, run aw—Aaahhh!?"
 "Stop! You can get the money later... Aggghhh!!?"
 "Why!? Why are you doing this...!?"
 "You betray us!?"
 The people in the wagons were questioning, screaming, begging for their lives, and cursing. But that was all. Unused to fighting, unarmed, and wounded, there was no way they could resist. Soon all the noise dies down.
 "Ugh....? Why!? Why are you doing this!? Are you trying to keep us quiet!? You're a fool, you're a fool for doing this...!!"
 The old merchant, lying on the floor, blood pouring from both of his wrists that have been cut off in a frenzy, stares at Kamui who is coming toward him step by step, brushing off the blood that sticks to his Dagger (tantō). He glares at Kurayoshi with the intent to kill him.
 Until just now, Kurayoshi had not expected to be betrayed, much less to be told off. This was not because he was naive, but because of his rational thinking as a merchant. He had several insurance policies to take many people with him in the event of his downfall, and he had a wide range of interests and connections. He prevented such a situation from happening by putting himself in a position where it is more profitable to keep himself alive than to be killed. And not to mention...!!!
 "You must know that it's no use to kill me! Whose order is this...!?"
 Kurayoshi understands that Shosuke from Danjo-dai is neither stupid nor incompetent. He must understand that killing him would only cause his own loss and ruin. If that is the case, then... who is directing this situation...?
 "Hmph... Are you a merchant after all? Did you get your foot in the door?"
 Kamui smiles at Kurayoshi with a mixture of mockery, sympathy, and pity. He may not be a bad guy, but... merchants are not supposed to be smart. They seem to have a good nose for money, but not necessarily a broad vision of other things. There are other standards of value in the world.
 "Wh-what are you talking about...!?"
 "Well, it's none of your business."
 Kamui approaches the old man, who groans with sweat dripping down his forehead, holding his Dagger (tantō). The old man looks human through the gap in his cloak, but he gives the others an indescribable feeling of discomfort. Yes, it was as if something monster was wearing human skin...
 "Hey, stop..."
 The next moment, Kurayoshi's vision spins around. As if in mid-air, his vision comes close to the ceiling of the wagon, and a moment later he sees the floor rapidly closing in on him. And before he hits the floor, his vision loses its brightness...
* * *
 "Well, these guys are easy to deal with. All that's left is...."
 After literally killing everyone inside, Kamui gets out of the wagon. Then, after looking around at the bodies of the guards lying here and there, he finds another wagon a short distance away and heads for it. The horses, whose coach had been killed, seemed to be moving about whimsically, trying to graze on the grass around them.
 "Hey, hey, don't run away! All right, all right, just keep quiet. Now..."
 The horses found some grass they liked and stopped to munch on it. After quieting them down, Kamui gets into the carriage. Breaking the padlock, he enters and finds another target.
 "Hey. Long time no see, Iruka? You look like you've been well taken care of, haven't you?"
 He wears a ragged prison uniform, shackles on his arms, shackles around his neck, rough ropes to bind his spiritual power, iron chains to seal his youkai power, and even several sealing charms attached to him... This is the Kou-style restraint method used by the Ministry of Justice for violent criminals who have a very high chance of escaping. There he saw his fellow countrymen. He must have been interrogated before his transfer. Bruises are visible on his cheeks and limbs.
 "...Ah? Is that you, Kamui? You're alive, huh? If I remember correctly, wasn't your head blown off?"
 Iruka asks in the same tired voice, staring at him with dark and tired eyes. The wolf's ears on his head twitch, indicating that his nature is more like youkai's. He seems to be trying to detect sounds around him. It seems to be trying to detect sounds around it.
 "I've got a lot of hidden tricks up my sleeve, you know. Anyway, I'm going to take off those nasty restraints first."
 With that, he cuts off the iron chains and ropes with his dagger (tantō). Then he forcibly pulls off one or two of the charms.
 "Ouch! D*mn, that's a very expensive charm."
 "Oh, well, indeed. We'll deal with the d*mned charms later. Then, can't you do something about these shackles first?"
 Following Iruka's words, Kamui removes the wooden shackles with the key from his pocket. Iruka then rubs her freed wrists and neck and clicks her tongue.
 "...Hey, I can't see Osiki is here?"
 Iruka asks with a stern look on her face.
 "Yeah. The old man's dead."
 "I see. ...Damn it."
 When Kamui tells Iruka of Ryuuto's death with a cowering shoulder, Iruka's face contorts as if he had half prepared for the news.
 "....so, what are you going to do? It doesn't matter that Osiki is dead, but why do you have to kill that old man and the rest of them? And do you have any news from the elders?"
 Iruka, who was already aware of the tragedy that had occurred in the other wagon, asks Kamui. Although they were only using each other, it was also true that they had a profitable relationship. Iruka was worried about whether Kamui had the approval from the top to kill all those Kurayoshi and others...
 "Oh. Don't worry about that... I'm leaving that village now."
 "Ah...? What!?"
 A moment later, Iruka narrowly avoided a swing aimed at his neck with his youkai-like sixth sense. Although he avoided it, blood flows from his throat as if he had cut the thin skin of his neck.
 "Oh, hey Kamui...!? You've got to be kidding, b*stard!!?"
 Iruka is upset and screams at the murderous act of his friend, or rather, the young man who is supposed to be his friend. In response, Kamui whistles at Iruka's movement.
 "Oh, you avoided that one. It was definitely a surprise attack, though, wasn't it? I guess your senses become more acute when you become a youkai."
 With this remark, Kamui closes in on the opponent at once. Iruka quickly catches the flash of his dagger (tantō) with the iron chain in his hand, which had restrained him just a moment ago.
 "Tsk... Hey... you b*stard...!? Why...!!"
 "When I come to the capital meeting, I feel foolish to go back to the countryside...!"
 Iruka's face is distorted in confusion and anger. Then Kamui strikes again with his weapon. But Iruka somehow manages to catch it.
 "You b*stard, do you want to betray us...!?"
 "From my point of view, how long are you going to stay in that place...!!?"
 The fierce duel between the dagger (tantō) and the iron chain paused as they retreated from each other at about the same time. Iruka glared at Kamui with a killing intent, but at the same time with a frustrated gaze. The situation was clearly more unfavorable for Iruka.
 "In the beginning. Over there, you're treated like a traitor, aren't you? That's right. People trust me more than they trust you. Be careful, they'll be coming after you to keep you quiet."
 Iruka is absolutely mortified by the traitor's words. Iruka stares at Kamui with a gaze filled with hatred, but the traitor seems to be unaffected.
 "You b*stard, I'll kill you...!!"
 "Well, let's just half-kill you. It's too early to kill you yet."
 The sound of the metal cutting rings out again in the mountains at night...
* * *
 Kebiishi (police and judicial chief) Agency, report
 On the 10th day of the 10th lunar month, a horse-drawn wagon was found on Mt. Eiraku. All of the prisoners and guards who were in charge of the convoy were killed. In addition, it was confirmed that Tachibana Kurayoshi and all the other members of the Tachibana Trading Company who were being escorted were killed. It is believed that it is impossible to read their memories because they were physically and magically altered.
 Then, the prisoner who is believed to be from the Ezo tribe, who is being transported in a separate wagon, is missing. Most of the armor-type restraints have been destroyed, and a bloodstained charm and iron chain were found in another place. It is assumed that he is on the run. A search will be conducted for the escaped fugitives in hiding.
 But given the circumstances of this case, it would be extremely difficult for the fugitive to escape by himself. Therefore, it is assumed that there is a collaborator or a person equivalent thereto. Accordingly, approval for the investigation of this case is requested.
* * *
 Reply from the Ministry of Justice and the Commissioner of the Prison Department
 In the opinion of the Ministry of Justice, this case was perpetrated by the fugitive alone. The Kebiishi (police and judicial chief) office is to concentrate only on the search for the fugitive in question. Any search for other collaborators will not be permitted without exception.

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